Etruscan Corner Etruscan Books Rituales

Etruscan Books Rituales


The Etruscan books were texts full of principles created to guide the society, the politics, and the religious life of the Etruscans. Subsequently during the first century BC, these books were translated in latin by Tarquinius Priscus (Libri Tarquitani) and re-examined by Cicero (De Divinatione). In the latter Cicero attacks with philosophic skepticism all aspects related to oracles, and haruspicina astrology (divination) criticizing the reliability of these cults. Nevertheless, Cicero declares that their practice is needed to ensure the internal harmony and balance of the Roman state and to preserve traditions.

The Etruscan sacred texts were three. As it follows:

  • Rituales books (Libri Rituales) divided in three groups; Libri Fatales, Archeruntici, and Ostentaria;
  • Fulgurales Books (Libri Fulgurales) revealed – by the nymph Begoia;
  • Haruspicini Books (Libri Haruspicini) revealed by Taygete.

The Rituales books were a collection of rituals for the creation of cities, temples, and houses. In these books were written all rules that governed the organisation of politics, religiousity, the army for the good of the community and not least the methods to adopt for wars or peace treaties.

The Roman ritual of founding has its roots from the Etruscan rituals. It used to consist in the tracing of borderlines using a plough pulled by a bull (positioned on the external part of the perimeter traced) and a cow (positioned on the internal part). Once the borderline was traced it was strictly forbidden to cultivate or build on top of it.

Cities used to be built following the indications of Kardo and the Duodecumanus; besides that, all cities had to have three main gates to enter, three main roads and three temples usually dedicated to Tinia (Tin), Uni (Thalna) and Menvra. Right at the centre of the city there was the Mundus, a circular cavity created to communicate with the underworld and the beyond.

This enormous cavity was usually covered by a huge circular stone that in certain days of the year would be lifted up to establish communication between the underworld (the beyond) and the land of the living.

During Roman times the opening of the Mundus was celebrated on the twenty-fourth of August, the fifth of October and the ninth of November. On these dates army, battles, rituals of marriage and so on used to be stopped to show respect to the dead. A similar notion of the Mundus was the Roma Quadrata (Square Rome). The haruspices who created Rome dug a squared cavity right at the crossing of the Kardo and the Duodecumanus. Once the cavity was done the tools utilized to dig were thrown inside it; the ritual would be ended by throwing a handful of ground by each one of the people present during the excavation. The Roma Quadrata is situated up on the Palatine Hill right front of the temple of Apollo.

Other techniques that were part of the ritual discipline (Libri Rituales) were the ones for field delimitation and areas measurement (the Jugerum was a measure initially adopted by the Etruscans to create fields for the agriculture, but then absorbed by the Romans for the army). Thus, even the fields where to develop agriculture had to be inside a divine design for the Etruscans.

Considering the Fatales books (Libri Fatales) here is collected the doctrine of the time; its foundations refer to the inflexibility of time, this passes along down to an end following a scheme already arranged and unmodifiable except for some special cases; for example, by worshipping the Gods (usually Tinia) it was possible to prolong life and change faith.

Life expectancies was around eighty-four years, the Etruscans considered that seven years were a cycle (so Eighty-four were twelve cycles for a person), and the last cycle could be increased by ten years through rituals of worship.

Regarding how long was the life or presence of a State the measure was the century. A century for the Etruscans was considered seventy years long. They had calculated for their civilization ten centuries of life.

The Acheruntici books (Libri Acheruntici) contained rituals to delay faith and all rules to be adopted for animal sacrifice to refresh the deceased and to follow for the burials.

The Ostentaria books (Libri Ostentaria) were books created to interpret the various natural phenomena, so they were a guide to understand divine messages.

There were three types of phenomena:

  • Cosmic; usually characterized by seismic movements, particular precipitations (rain, floods), sky obscuration, aurora boreal, etc.;
  • From Flora through the threes; the threes were divided in Arbor felix and Arbor Infelix;
  • From the Fauna through the animals; the Etruscans used to do hepatoscopy, differentiate animals whether they were of bad or good omen, and observe birds looking at their flying behaviour.

From the Application of the Templum doctrine were given all classifications that allowed to read the hidden messages the phenomena had.

(End of part one)